13 January 2014

Liberia: Senatorial Election Faces Setback

Photo: UNMIL/Staton Winter
Voting in Liberia's last election.

The National Elections Commission has announced an indefinite postponement of the voters' roll update due to what the commission termed 'delay in the passage of the 2013/14 national budget' which has left trickle down effects on all of the operations and programs of the electoral body.

Speaking at a news conference in Monrovia on Friday, 10 January, the Chairman of the National Election Commission, Cllr. Jerome George Korkoya said, the NEC has not been able to place in orders on time for materials and kits required for the commencement of the Voters' Roll Update or VRU exercise, which should have commenced here today, January 13, 2014.

The suspension of the VRU came barely after a week when the commission launched the exercise, something that has led many to wonder if the election house was not aware of the challenges before the colorful launch.

"As it is now, only 50 percent of materials from international procurement is in the country. Shipment of the rest of the materials has been hampered by unfavorable weather condition in the supplier country; however, our suppliers have assured that the rest of the materials would be here on (yesterday) Sunday," said Chairman Korkoya.

He also mentioned regulations of the Public Procurement Concession Commission, (PPCC) as another challenge that has crippled the start of the voters' roll update exercise.

According to him, procurement of materials is one aspect of the electoral process that requires a considerable amount of time to undertake. Cognizant of difficulties associated with international procurement processes, the commission as part of its planning process developed and submitted a procurement plan to the PPCC in accordance with its draft budget, he explained.

Cocoa stressed that the PPCC could not honor the procurement plan submitted, on grounds that it needed to know the total envelop allocated to the commission in order to approve the plan. Detailing the budgetary challenge, the NEC chairman, said, an amount of US$3 million was made available to the commission as a portion of a total of US$5.6 million needed for the first phase of the electoral process.

According to him, the amount has been expended to finance other aspects of the voters' roll update process, including procurement of materials. "It is important to note, that the training of over one thousand temporary VRU staffs has been completed and ready to deploy. Also more than 50 percent of our international procurement is in country preparations for the start of the VRU process," he added.

He explained that in order to deploy these materials and personnel, the commission put up bids to lease more than two hundred vehicles. Following the bidding process, he said a total of US$1.9 million is required to rent the vehicles over a period of 45 days.

Providing detail on the PPCC's component of the challenge, Chairman Korkoya pointed out that in an effort to fast track the vehicle rental and lease process, the commission communicated to the PPCC to seek a waiver of the requirement of section 31, subsection 3 of the Public Procurement Concession Commission act.

Waiver requested was predicated on the late approval of the national budget, which subsequently resulted to late submission of the commission's procurement plan for the Special Senatorial Election, and the commencement date of January 13, 2014 for the VRU would not be met if the PPCC were to insist on enforcing the 14-day period that is required to review the notification of intent to award a contract.

"The PPCC said that it could not grant waiver in the absence of a confirmation from the Ministry of Finance that the 1.9 US$ million for the lease and rental of vehicles was available. Accordingly, the commission contacted the Ministry of Finance and is awaiting a response. We are told that the Minister of Finance is currently not in the country," he added.

Korkoya noted that due to the late placement of international procurement occasioned by the late approval of the national budget, the holiday season, coupled with extreme weather conditions in supplier countries, leading to the grounding of flights, the delivery of registration kits and other essential voters' roll update materials could not be on schedule.

"In view of these problems, the Board of Commissioners of the National Elections Commission is constrained to announce the postponement of the Voter Roll Update exercise which was scheduled to be conducted from January 13, 2014 to March 5, 2014. This postponement remains in force pending the conclusion of ongoing discussions with the Ministry of Finance and the PPCC in respect to the provision of the requisite funding", the NEC boss concluded.

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